Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Happy Birthday, Van

"And I will stroll the merry way
And jump the hedges first
And I will drink the clear
Clean water for to quench my thirst
And I shall watch the ferry-boats
And then they'll get high
On a bluer ocean
Against tomorrow's sky
And I will never grow so old again ..."

Never grow old, man.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Seewald and the PBXVI

This time from God and the World, in the midst of a discussion about the Our Father. This particular question kept me up nights a while back, so I was happy to see it brought up here.

(Seewald) It says at one place in the Our Father: “and lead us not into temptation.” Why should a loving God want to lead us into temptation? Is that a mistake in translation? Frère Roger, the founder of the Taizé movement, an ecumenical religious community in France, suggested that we might pray: “And do not leave us in temptation.”

(PBXVI) That’s been worked over a great deal. I know that Adenaur pressed Cardinal Frings hard on that point, that it couldn’t be right the way it is. And we’re forever getting letters to the same effect. “Lead us not into temptation” is in fact the literal translation of the text. And then of course we ask what it actually means.

The person praying knows that God does not want to force him into what is wrong. He asks God here for his guidance in temptation, so to speak. The Letter of James says explicitly that God, in whom there is no shadow of darkness, does not tempt anyone. But God can put us to the test – think of Abraham – in order to make us more mature, in order to bring us face-to-face with our own depths so as then to be able to bring us back to himself more completely. In that sense, the word “temptation” has various shades of meaning. God never wants to lead us onward to what is evil; that’s quite clear. But it could well be that he does not simply keep temptation away from us, that as we said, he helps us in temptation and leads us through it.

In any case, we ask him not to allow us to get into temptations that might make us slide into evil ways; that he not subject us to tests that strain us beyond our powers; that he not set aside his power and leave us on beyond our powers; that he not set aside his power and leave us on our own, that he knows our weakness and therefore will protect us so that we are not lost.

(Seewald) In short: the prayer stays the way it is?

(PBXVI) I would say yes. It would not be entirely wrong to make translations consistent with the meaning, like that of Roger Schutz and other suggestions. But it seems to me better to have the humility to leave the original words and to pray oneself into its depths.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Lickerish Voluptuaries

I'm not sure how this reads in the Hong translation, but here's a sample from Lowrie:

"Oh if fashion meant nothing more than that a woman in the heat of desire were to throw off all her clothes, well, that would be something. But that is not all of it, fashion is not undisguised sensuality, not tolerated debauchery, but a contraband trade in indecent licensed as decorum. As in heathen Prussia a marriageable girl wore a bell which served as a signal to the men, so likewise is the existence of a woman of fashion a perpetual bell-ringing, not for debauchees but for lickerish voluptuaries."

~ the Fashion Designer in In Vino Veritas

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

On all hilltops
There is peace,
In all treetops
You will hear
Hardly a breath.
Birds in the woods are silent.
Just wait, soon
You too will rest.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Matthew XXV:30

The first bridge, Constitution Station. At my feet
the shunting trains trace iron labyrinths.
Steam hisses up and up into the night,
which becomes at a stroke the night of the Last Judgment.

From the unseen horizon
and from the very center of my being,
an infinite voice pronounced these things--
things, not words. This is my feeble translation,
time-bound, of what was a single limitless Word:

"Stars, bread, libraries of East and West,
playing-cards, chessboards, galleries, skylights, cellars,
a human body to walk with on the earth,
fingernails, growing at nighttime and in death,
shadows for forgetting, mirrors busily multiplying,
cascades in music, gentlest of all time's shapes.
Borders of Brazil, Uruguay, horses and mornings,
a bronze weight, a copy of the Grettir Saga,
algebra and fire, the charge at Junin in your blood,
days more crowded than Balzac, scent of the honeysuckle,
love and the imminence of love and intolerable remembering,
dreams like buried treasure, generous luck,
and memory itself, where a glance can make men dizzy --
all this was given to you, and with it
the ancient nourishment of heroes --
treachery, defeat, humiliation.
In vain have oceans been squandered on you,
in vain the sun, wonderfully seen through Whitman's eyes.
You have used up the years and they have used up you,
and still, and still, you have not written the poem."

~ Jorge Luis Borges

Friday, August 26, 2005

Good Gnus (A Vignette in Verse)

When Cares attack and life seems black,
How sweet it is to pot a yak,
Or puncture hares and grizzly bears,
And others I could mention:
But in my Animals "Who's Who"
No name stands higher than the Gnu:
And each new gnu that comes in view
Receives my prompt attention.

When Afric's sun is sinking low,
And shadows wander to and fro,
And everywhere there's in the air
A hush that's deep and solemn;
Then is the time good men and true
With View Halloo pursue the gnu:
(The safest spot to put your shot
Is through the spinal column).

To take the creature by surprise
We must adopt some rude disguise,
Although deceit is never sweet,
And falsehoods don't attract us:
So, as with gun in hand you wait,
Remember to impersonate
A tuft of grass, a mountain-pass,
A kopje or a cactus.

A brief suspense, and then at last
The waiting's o'er, the vigil past:
A careful aim. A spurt of flame.
It's done. You've pulled the trigger,
And one more gnu, so fair and frail,
Has handed in its dinner-pail:
(The females all are rather small,
The males are somewhat bigger).

~ P.G. Wodehouse

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The "Amazon Epicurean"

I think I'm giving up on review writing for now, mainly because Mister Quickly has set the bar so high. I hope that by such reticence I'll avoid the terrifying perils described below in my attributions to Xenophanes and the pope. Why should one write at all when there's Mr. Quickly to read?

Here's a sample:
Caring for Your Miniature Donkey by Bonnie R. Gross
Edition: Paperback
Price: $36.95

Availability: Usually ships in 24 hours

5 of 11 people found the following review helpful:

thought-provoking, pragmatic advice, November 27, 2004

This is an excellent book, and a most welcome read after the disastrous experiences I had with my first 3 miniature donkeys. Poor creatures. I'm only thankful that this wonderful edition has helped me prolong the life expectancy of my current miniature donkey, Gerhardt. Donkies are not something you can just buy to play with and show off to your friends, and then leave unattended with a pet monkey for days on end.

One minor qualm I have is how Gross fails to mention the calamities involved in allowing a pet monkey to ride a miniature donkey. Be forewarned - this is not a good thing to do!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"The Development of Faith in Christ in the Christological Articles of the Creed"

“Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried”

a. Righteousness and grace: “The essential form of Christian worship is therefore rightly called Eucharistia, thanksgiving. Christian sacrifice does not consist in a giving of what God would not have without us but in our becoming totally receptive and letting ourselves be completely taken over by him. Letting God act on us – that is Christian sacrifice.” (283)

b. The Cross as worship and sacrifice: “The gesture of the love that gives all – this, and this alone, according to the Letter to the Hebrews, was the real means by which the cosmic day of reconciliation, the true and definitive feast of reconciliation. There is no other kind of worship and no other priest but he who accomplished it: Jesus Christ.” (287)

c. The nature of Christian worship: “… demands that, instead of indulging in the destructive rivalry of self-justification, we accept the gift of the love of Jesus Christ, who ‘stands in’ for us, allow ourselves to be united in it, and thus become worshippers with him and in him.” (288)

“St. John summarized all this in the Ecce homo (“Look, this is [the] man”) of Pilate, which menas quite fundamentally: This is how it is with man; this is man. The truth of man is his complete lack of truth. The saying in the Psalms that every man is a liar (Ps 116[115]:11[Douay-Rheims]) and lives in some way or other against the truth already reveals how it really is with man.. The truth about man is that he is constantly assailing truth; the just man crucified is thus a mirror held up to man in which he sees himself unadorned. But the Cross does not reveal only man; it also reveals God. God is such that he identifies himself with man right down into this abyss and that he judges him by saving him. In the abyss of human failure is revealed the still more inexhaustible abyss of divine love. The Cross is thus truly the center of revelation, a revelation that does not reveal any previously unknown principles but reveals us to ourselves by revealing us before God and God in our midst.” (293)

I find this last paragraph especially compelling, particularly the line about man 'constantly assailing truth.' Lately I've become especially conscious that I am certainly doing so here; I can look back at this or this and see that it's fairly obvious I've gotten off track a bit, but how many other instances are there where I've completely missed the boat, compltetly unawares? I'm reminded of that Xenophanes fragment, something along the lines of "Even if someone should happen to utter the truth, he cannot know that it really is the truth." And then there's Jonathan Webb's comparison of the search for truthful statements about reality with the number of spears it takes to bring an elephant down. Daganabit! How many mitsakes have I made in this very paragraph? Well, we do our best, we try to do better, and then we call it a day.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme--
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter's vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light.

But sometimes everything I write
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
All's misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun's illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

~ Robert Lowell

Monday, August 22, 2005

Introduction to Christianity Part Two, Chapter Two

“The Development of Faith in Christ in the Christological Articles of the Creed”

“Conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary”: “The main contrast consists in the fact that in pagan texts the Godhead almost always appears as fertilizing, procreative power, thus under a more or less sexual aspect and, hence, in a physical sense as the ‘father’ of the savior-child. As we have seen, nothing of this sort appears in the New Testament: the conception of Jesus is new creation, not begetting by God. God does not become the biological father of Jesus, and neither the New Testament nor the theology of the Church has fundamentally ever seen in this narrative or in the event recounted in it the ground for the real divinity of Jesus, his ‘Divine Sonship’.” (274)

I admit to feeling a bit lost here. When R writes “the conception of Jesus is new creation, not begetting by God” I can’t help but recall “begotten, not made, one in being with the Father …” which is a different creed, to be sure, but shouldn’t it still apply? And when he writes “God does not become the biological father of Jesus …” I have to wonder: was Jesus not biological in being? Perhaps an answer can be found in the following:

“The Church’s teaching about the Divine Sonship of Jesus is based, not on the story of the Virgin Birth, but on the Abba-Son dialogue and on the relationship of World and love that we found revealed in it. Its idea of being does not belong to the biological plane but to the “I am” of St. John’s Gospel, which therein, as we have seen, had already developed the Son-idea in all of its radicality, which is far more comprehensive and wide-ranging than the biological God-man ideas of myth.” (276)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Summer reading with Korrektiv: In Vino Veritas

To what extent In Vino Veritas was meant as a joke on his reading public then I don’t know, but it certainly makes for something like a joke for this reader today. I even downed a bottle of chianti to see if that would help. It didn’t. In short, I’m a little lost at sea here.

Regarding the presentation of the aesthetic, I wonder if K. hadn’t felt he’d progressed far enough beyond it that he became a little more surreptitious in his dramatization.

"Nothing," said John, "because nothing is more unpleasant than a sentimental scene, and nothing more disgusting than the knowledge that somewhere or other there is an external setting which in a direct and impertinent fashion pretends to be a reality."
I take this to be Kierkegaard’s irony at work from the beginning. We are firmly fixed in the aesthetic sphere, where direct communication (which I believe K. elsewhere describes as belonging to the religious sphere) is impossible. But why?

“Whatever is to be good must come at once; for 'at once' is the divinest of all categories and deserves to be honored as in the language of the Romans: ex templo, because it is the starting point for all that is divine in life, and so much so that what is not done at once is of evil." (Victor Emerita)
Does this concern for ‘at once’ mark Victor’s comment as wholly aesthetic in nature? It would seem so to me, and I would note then the ironic placement of the word ‘divinest’ near the beginning, as well as a certain breeziness, if not confusion, about the categories of good and evil. A banquet certainly can be ‘divine’ (indeed, even in the most attenuated Protestantism – certainly in Lutheranism - there is usually some kind of ritual for the Last Supper), but I think the use of the descriptor by Victor Emerita here is telling.

I think the comparison with the “woman question” in these pages with the “Jewish question” in Nazi Germany is pretty astute; it all sort of reminded me of the Tom Cruise character in Magnolia. And didn’t Nietschze say something about a whip and a chair when it came to dealing with women? Hey, isn’t he an existentialist too?!

The supplementary fragment from the Hong volume is helpful. I have that Lowrie translation, and will see if he supplies anything else along the same lines. I haven’t reached the ending – and may not have, if you hadn’t given me something to look forward to.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Introduction to Christianity Part Two: Jesus Christ, Chapter One

Probably out of stubborness more than anything else, here are some more selected passages from the Ratzinger book:

Excursus: Christian Structures: “Who can explain comprehensibly and with reasonable brevity what ‘being a Christian’ really means? Who can explain comprehensibly to someone else why he believes and what the plain direction, the nub, of the decision implicit in faith is?” (243)

1. The individual and the whole: “The salvation of the individual as individual can and could always be looked after directly and immediately by God, and this does happen again and again. He needs no intermediary channels by which to enter the soul of the individual, to which he is more present interiorly than he is to himself; nothing can reach more intimately and deeply into man than he, who touches this creature man in the very innermost depth of his being. For the salvation of the mere individual there would be no need of either a Church or a history of salvation, and Incarnation or a Passion of God in this world. But precisely at this point we must also add the further statement: Christian faith is not based on the atomized individual but comes from the knowledge that there is no such thing as the mere individual, that, on the contrary, man is himself only when he is fitted into the whole: into mankind, into history, into the cosmos, as is right and proper for a being who is ‘spirit in body’” (245)

“One is not a Christian because only Christians are saved; one is a Christian because for history Christian loving service has meaning and is a necessity.” (249)

2. The principle of “for”: “In conclusion it must be stated that all man’s own efforts to go beyond himself can never suffice. He who only wants to give and is not ready to receive, he who only wants to exist for others and is unwilling to recognize that he for his part, too lives on the unexpected, unprovokable gift of others’ ‘for’, fails to recognize the basic mode of human existence and is thus bound to destroy the true meaning of living ‘for one another’. To be fruitful, all self-sacrifices demand acceptance by others and, in the last analysis; by the other who is the truly ‘other’; of all mankind and at the same time completely one with it: the God-man Jesus Christ. (254)

3. The law of disguise: “The fact that “for” is to be regarded as the decisive principle of human existence, and in coinciding with the principle of love becomes the real point at which the divine manifests itself in the world, brings a further consequence with it. it has the result that the “entirely-otherness” of God, which man can figure out for himself, becomes total dissimilarity, the complete unknowability of God. It means that the hidden quality of God, on which man counts, assumes the scandalous form of his palpability and visibility as the Crucified One.” (255)

4. The law of excess or superfluity: “In the ethical statements of the New Testament, there is a tension that looks as if it cannot be resolved: the tensioin between grace and ethos, between total forgiveness and just as total a demand on man, between the complete endowment of man, who has everything showered upon him because he can achieve nothing, and the equally complete obligation to give himself, an obligation that culminates in the unheard-of demand, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). When, confronted with this upsetting polarity, one looks for a connecting link, one comes across again and again, especially in Pauline theology, but also in the first three Gospels, the word ‘excess’ (περισσευμα), in which the talk of grace and that of demands meet and merge.” (257)

5. Finality and hope: “Christian faith says that in Christ the salvation of man is accomplished, that in him the true future of mankind has irrevocably begun and thus, although remaining future, is yet also perfect, a part of our present. This assertion embraces a principle of finality that is of the highest importance for the form of Christian existence, that is to say, for the sort of existential decision that being a Christian entails.”

6. The primacy of acceptance and Christian positivity: “… man comes in the most profound sense to himself, not through what he does, but through what he accepts. He must wait for the gift of love, and love can only be received as a gift. It cannot be ‘made’ on one’s own, without anyone else, one must wait for it, let it be given to one. And one cannot become wholly man in any other way than by being loved, by letting oneself be loved. The love represents simultaneously both man’s highest possibility and his deepest need and that this most necessary thing is at the same time the freest and the most unenforceable means precisely that for his ‘salvation’ man is meant to rely on receiving.” (267)

7. Summary: The ‘spirit of Christianity’: “Let us be blunt, even at the risk of being misunderstood: the true Christian is not the denominational party member but he who through being a Christian has become truly human; not he who slavishly observes a system of norms, thinking as he does so only of himself, but he who has become freed to simple human goodness.” (270)

Monday, August 15, 2005

"gorgeous as a jungle bird!"

Beyond the Alps
(On the train from Rome to Paris, 1950, the year when Pius XII defined the dogma of Mary's bodily assumption.)

Reading how even the Swiss had thrown the sponge
in once again and Everest was still
unscaled, I watched our Paris pullman lunge
mooning across the fallow Alpine snow.
O bella Roma! I saw our stewards go
forward on tiptoe banging on their gongs.
Life changed to landscape. Much against my will
I left the City of God where it belongs.
There the skirt-mad Mussolini unfurled
the eagle of Caesar. He was one of us
only, pure prose. I envy the conspicuous
waste of our grandparents on their grand tours--
long-haired Victorian sages accepted the universe,
while breezing on their trust funds through the world.

When the Vatican made Mary's Assumption dogma,
the crowds at San Pietro screamed Papa.
The Holy Father dropped his shaving glass,
and listened. His electric razor purred,
his pet canary chirped on his left hand.
The lights of science couldn't hold a candle
to Mary risen--at one miraculous stroke,
angel-wing'd, gorgeous as a jungle bird!
but who believed this? Who could understand?
Pilgrims still kissed Saint Peter's brazen sandal.
The Duce's lynched, bare, booted skull still spoke.
God herded his people to the coup de grâce--
the costumed Switzers sloped their pikes to push,
O Pius, through the monstrous human crush. . . .

I thought of Ovid. For in Caesar's eyes
that tomcat had the Number of the Beast,
and now where Turkey faces the red east,
and the twice-stormed Crimean spit, he lies.
Rome asked for poets. At her beck and call,
came Lucan, Tacitus and Juvenal,
the black republicans who tore the tits
and bowels of the Mother Wolf to bits.
Killer and army-commander waved the rod
of empire over the Caesars' salvaged bog . . .
'Imperial Tiber, Oh my yellow dog,
black earth by the black Roman sea, I lie
with the boy-crazy daughter of the God.
il dulce Augusto. I shall never die.'

Our mountain-climbing train had come to earth.
Tired of the querulous hush-hush of the wheels,
the blear-eyed ego kicking in my berth
lay still, and saw Apollo plant his heels
on terra firma through the morning's thigh . . .
each backward, wasted Alp, a Parthenon,
fire-branded socket of the Cyclop's eyes.
There are no tickets for that altitude
once held by Hellas, when the Goddess stood,
prince, pope, philosopher and golden bough,
pure mind and murder at the scything prow--
Minerva, the miscarriage of the brain.

Now Paris, our black classic, breaking up
like killer kings on an Etruscan cup.

~ Robert Lowell, from Life Studies

Feast of the Assumption

The commemoration of the death of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the Dormition, or falling asleep, as it was known in the East) is known as the Assumption because of the tradition that her body did not decay but that she was raised up, body and soul, into heaven. This tradition was already present in the sixth century; by the beginning of the twentieth century it was widespread (for details, see this article in the Catholic Encyclopaedia); and after a poll of bishops all over the world, the Pope formally and infallibly declared the doctrine of the Assumption to be part of the authentic and ancient doctrine of the universal Church. (See also the consultative document Deiparae Virginis Mariae – On the Possibility of Defining the Assumption as a Dogma of the Church).

from Universalis

Sunday, August 14, 2005

. . . And Call Me Katharine

Debuts today!

While I don't want to put too much pressure on Ms. Lawson as she storms out of the gate, I think this may well shape up to be the best new read we've seen in quite some time. My first question for Helen: Are there any live recordings of Pilar Lorengar performing in Simon Boccanegra? Can you make any MP3's available?

Introduction to Christianity Part Two: Jesus Christ, Chapter One

D. The Different Paths taken By Christology

1. Theology of the Incarnation and Theology of the Cross: “Anyone at all familiar with these two great historical forms of Christian self-comprehension will certainly not be tempted to try his hand at a simplifying synthesis. The two fundamental structural forms of ‘Incarnation’ theology and ‘Cross’ theology reveal polarities that cannot be surmounted and combined in a neat synthesis without the loss of the crucial points in each; they must remain present as polarities that mutually correct each other and only by complementing each other point toward the whole.” 230

2. Christology and the Doctrine of Redemption: R takes up Anselm of Canterbury (ca. 1033-1109), in whose theology “it is taken for granted that Christ had to die on the Cross in order to make good the infinite offense that had been committed and in this way to restore the order that had been violated.” According to R, “it cannot be denied, on the other hand, that the perfectly logical divine-cum-human legal system erected by Anselm distorts the perspectives and with its rigid logic can make the image of God appear in a sinister light.” (233)

3. Christ, “The Last Man”: R turns to Teilhard de Chardin as a modern basis for stating that “as an ‘I’ , man is indeed an end, but the whole tendency of his being and of his own existence shows him also to be a creation belonging to a ‘super-I’ that does not blot him out but encompasses him; only such an association can bring out the form of the future man, in which humanity will achieve complete fulfillment of itself.” (239)

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

~ Wallace Stevens

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

~ Wallace Stevens

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Deadwood Season One: Episodes Eleven and Twelve

Deadwood Season One: Episodes Eleven and Twelve

Jewel’s Boot is Made for Walking
Written by Ricky Jay; Directed by Steve Shill
”I don’t mean to upset you. It’s always about the money.”
“Alma’s father, Otis Russell, arrives from New York to ‘help’ with her claim. Swearengen strikes a bargain with Adams to rid him of some legal baggage involving the arriving magistrate. Jewel journeys to Doe’s cabin for help wither leg. Eddie resumes work at the Bella Union, while Bullock is angered by the choice of the corrupt Con Stapleton as the new sheriff.”

Sold Under Sin
Written by Ted Mann; Directed by Davis Guggenheim
“We all have bloody thoughts.”
“General Crook rolls into Deadwood with his troops, known as Custer’s avengers,’ and the Yankton magistrate, Clagett, prompting a parade and business soliciatations from E.B. Farnum and Cy Tolliver. Al Swearengen delivers ta tortured sould from suffering, and Bullock reacts decisively to Russell’s intentions regarding Alma. Stapleton’s new commission as sheriff proves short-lived, and Bullock and Alma have a late-night meeting.”

These two episodes, and the last in particular, are a fine finish to a great first season. I think dramatically it works better than most of the other episodes, and the counterpoint (or whatever species of irony marks the actual term) developed to its full potential. In fact, at one point the viewer is brought to wonder whether it is or isn’t a portrayal of God’s will being worked out through the actions Swearengen and Doc, though in a manner that leaves its devisers on the far side of blasphemy.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Deadwood Season One: Episodes Eight, Nine and Ten

Suffer the Little Children
Written by Elizabeth Sarnoff; Directed by Daniel Minahan
“I wouldn’t trust a man who wouldn’t try to steal a little.”
“Deadwood breathes easier when some riders arrive in town with the smallpox vaccine, and word of a possible treaty with the Sioux. The results of Bullock’s analysis of her gold claim move Alma to reassess her plans and sets up a confrontation between Bullock and Swearengen. When Flora tries to quit, Cy teaches Joanie a deadly lesson at the expense of a couple of con artists.”

Some of the worst violence I’ve ever seen portrayed on film, bar none. Absolutely sickening.

No Other Sons or Daughters
Written by George Putnam; Directed by Ed Bianchi
“I’m declaring myself conductor of this meeting as I have the bribe sheet”
“With annexation of Deadwood looming, Swerengen calls a meeting to set up an informal government. Bullock and Alma compare notes on Ellsworth and each other, and Farnum gets a special-delivery letter from Hickok and a special new post. Oanie finally prepares to make a go on her own, with Cy’s avowed blessings, and after a long binge, Calamity Jane decides to ride out of town.”

Mister Wu
Written by Bryan McDonald; Directed by Daniel Minahan
“Even money, this’ll end in a bloodbath.”
“An opium theft leaves Swearengen trying to find a common language with his supplier, and navigating murky waters to deal with the mess. Meanwhile, Silas Adams, bagman for the magistrate from Yankton, arrives with bad news for Swearengen. Bullock regrets having raised his hand at the government meeting. An unwelcome and ailing Reverend Smith gravitates to the Gem and its new piano.”

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Deadwood Season One: Episodes Five, Six and Seven

‘The Trial of Jack McCall’ is fairly straightforward: Hickok’s killer is tried in a makeshift courtroom set up in the Gem, where it can be more easily manipulated by Swearengen; Jane goes on a bender in the woods and befriends Plague victim no. 1; Joanie goes to Hickok’s funeral, also attended by Cy and Montana, and Alma and Trixie together babysit the young Norwegian girl. I think the highlight is an incredibly perverse soliloquy by E.B. as he scrubs blood off the floor. The double quotation marks signal E.B.’s vocalization of what he imagines Swearengen’s thoughts to be:

‘You have been tested, Al Swearengen. And your deepest purposes proved. There’s gold on the woman’s claim. You might as well have shouted it from the rooftops. “That’s why I’m jumping through hoops to get it back. Thorough as I fleeced the fool she married, I will fleece his widow, too, using loyal associates like Eustace Bailey Farnum as my go-betweens and dupes. To explain why I want her bought out I will make a pretext of my fear of the Pinkertons. I will throw Farnum a token thief. Why should I reward E.B. with some small fractional participation in the claim? Or let him even lay by a little security and source of continuing income for his declining years? What’s he ever done for me except let me terrify him every goddamned day of his life till the idea of bowel regularity is a forlorn fucking hope. Not to mention ordering a man killed in one of E.B.’s rooms. So every fucking free moment of his life E.B. has to spend scrubbing the bloodstains off the goddamned floor to keep from … having to lower the rates.” God damn that motherfucker!’

The idea that division and contradiction is a sign of evil is at least as ancient as the gospels, and in this speech E.B. dramatizes his part in the duplicity that marks him as one of Satan’s minions. He begins by assuming a position superior to Swearengen, but in narrating the reasons for this understanding discovers again his pathetic inferiority, in spite of his greater insight.

1. “You have been tested”, reveals that E.B. believes himself to be in relation superior to Swearengen, assuming that E.B. is the one doing the ‘testing’. At the very least (since we know E.B.’s surmise of Swearengen’s motives is correct), he has a vantage point from which he is able to see Swearengen and his machinations in a way that Swearengen is unable to see E.B. To E.B., Swearengen is transparent.

2. This is confirmed by his voicing of Swearengen’s thoughts, through which E.B. not only exposes Swearengen’s pretexts in relation to others, but in relation to himself, E.B., as well. This proves to be too much for E.B., and from that exalted position he believed he held he then ‘descends’ into the knowledge of his obsequiousness and self-contempt.

Swearengen can’t be completely evil; he’s not the devil himself, or ‘evil incarnate’ or whatever, since the dramatization of evil here (I think) reveals it’s human dimension. And, of course, out of Swearengen’s actions some good is derived (the medicine, for example, is delivered from Cheyenne almost entirely because of his initiative; that this initiative exists for the calculation of future profit doesn’t matter in the least: he’s quite aware of the good accomplishes, and even minimizes what honor would seem to redound to him). Here the evil – duplicitous, or double, by nature – is incapable of standing on its own and continues in the corrupt relations between men. In Swearengen blindness accompanies power, but in E.B. powerlessness accompanies insight. There are two sides of fear here, terrorizes and terrorized, and the flip side of Swearengen’s willful deceit is E.B.’s self-hate. Forlorn indeed.

‘Plague’ shows the disease spreading, Alma gets over her laudanum addiction with help from Trixie, Jane discovers that she has a gift for tending to the sick, and the Reverend collapses because of an epilepsy fit. Bullock is attacked by an Indian protecting sacred burial grounds, and the two fight to the death. Star shows an interest in a more and more healthy looking Trixie, and Alma does so well getting over her addiction that she comes under the suspicion of Swearengen.

“Bullock Returns to Camp” gives us a good idea of how Bullock came out of the fight; what’s interesting is that he’s found by Utter on his way back from Cheyanne. The two of them go off in search of McCall and find him in another camp. Back in Deadwood a young man and his sister arrive in search of their father, or, failing that, work, and the girl is tutored by Joanie, unbeknownst to her brother over at the Gem. Andy walks back into the Bella Union to confront Cy. Jane and Charlie Utter reunite, and Trixie has a showdown with Alma Garret over the welfare of the young Norwegian girl.

All in all these are fine episodes; I thought the storyline concerning the Reverend and his epilepsy is especially good for it’s searching treatment of issues of Faith. The Reverend and Doc discuss the connection between seizures and belief, and though confrontational, they both take the trouble to ask questions about each other’s answers. The story of the two teenagers is more complex than their admirers are able to understand, and is discouraging, to say the least.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Introduction to Christianity Part Two: Jesus Christ, Chapter One

C. Jesus Christ – True God and True Man

1. The Formulation of the Question: “Have we not perhaps raised ourselves aloft on a splendid system of ideas but left reality behind us, so that the indisputable coherence of the system is of no use to us because the foundation is missing? … one not only can but must answer with Yes if one is not to slip either into rationalistic trivialities or mythological son-ideas that were long ago surpassed and overcome by biblical faith in the Son and the way it was expunded in the early Church.” (212)

2. A Modern Stock Idea of the “Hisorical Jesus”

“Who was Jesus of Nazareth really? What view did he take of himself?” (212) These are the questions that modernity has seen fit to answer with what R identifies as “such a conglomeration of hypotheses.” “If one goes to work carefully from a linguistic point of view and does not mix together things that it would be convenient to find cohering, the following points can be established.” (215)

a. The question of the “divine man”: “The concept of divine man or God-man theos aner occurs nowhere in the New Testament.

b. Biblical terminology and its relation to dogma: “Within the language of the New Testament, a rigourous distinction must be made between the designation “Son of God” and the simple designation “the Son”. To anyone who does not proceed with linguistic precision, the two seem to mean just the same thing. The two descriptions do indeed in a certain sense have something to do with each other; but originally they belong to quite different contexts, have different origins, and express different things.” (216)

i. “The expression ‘Son of God’ stems from the “king” theology of the Old Testament, which itself rests on the demytholigization of oriental “king” theology and expresses its transformation into the “Chosen People” theology of Israel. The classical example of this procedure … is provided by Psalm 2:7, and thus by the text that at the same time became one of the points of departure of Christological thinking.” (217) R goes on to contrast the ‘demytholigized myth’ surrounding Jesus as the ‘Son of God’ and the ‘myth that has remained myth’ of the Roman emperor, with his all-embracing claims. (222)

ii. “… the few words that have been handed down to us by the Greek New Testament in Jesus’ mother tongue, Aramaic, form a particularly good key to his original mode of speedh. They struck those who heard them as so surprisingly new, and mirrored so well the special quality of the Lord, his uniqueness, that they were remembered word for word; in them we can still hear him, as it were, speaking in his own voice.” (223) Abba being chief among these.

“The Christology of John and of the Church’s Creed, in contrast, goes much farther in its radicalism, inasmuch as it acknowledges being itself as act and says, “Jesus is his work.”

Friday, August 05, 2005

Introduction to Christianity Part Two: Jesus Christ, Chapter One

C. Jesus Christ – True God and True Man

1. The Formulation of the Question: “Have we not perhaps raised ourselves aloft on a splendid system of ideas but left reality behind us, so that the indisputable coherence of the system is of no use to us because the foundation is missing? … one not only can but must answer with Yes if one is not to slip either into rationalistic trivialities or mythological son-ideas that were long ago surpassed and overcome by biblical faith in the Son and the way it was expunded in the early Church.” (212)

2. A Modern Stock Idea of the “Hisorical Jesus”

“Who was Jesus of Nazareth really? What view did he take of himself?” (212) These are the questions that modernity has seen fit to answer with what R identifies as “such a conglomeration of hypotheses.” “If one goes to work carefully from a linguistic point of view and does not mix together things that it would be convenient to find cohering, the following points can be established.” (215)

a. The question of the “divine man”: “The concept of divine man or God-man theos aner occurs nowhere in the New Testament.

b. Biblical terminology and its relation to dogma: “Within the language of the New Testament, a rigourous distinction must be made between the designation “Son of God” and the simple designation “the Son”. To anyone who does not proceed with linguistic precision, the two seem to mean just the same thing. The two descriptions do indeed in a certain sense have something to do with each other; but originally they belong to quite different contexts, have different origins, and express different things.” (216)

i. “The expression ‘Son of God’ stems from the “king” theology of the Old Testament, which itself rests on the demytholigization of oriental “king” theology and expresses its transformation into the “Chosen People” theology of Israel. The classical example of this procedure … is provided by Psalm 2:7, and thus by the text that at the same time became one of the points of departure of Christological thinking.” (217) R goes on to contrast the ‘demytholigized myth’ surrounding Jesus as the ‘Son of God’ and the ‘myth that has remained myth’ of the Roman emperor, with his all-embracing claims. (222)

ii. “… the few words that have been handed down to us by the Greek New Testament in Jesus’ mother tongue, Aramaic, form a particularly good key to his original mode of speedh. They struck those who heard them as so surprisingly new, and mirrored so well the special quality of the Lord, his uniqueness, that they were remembered word for word; in them we can still hear him, as it were, speaking in his own voice.” (223) Abba being chief among these.

“The Christology of John and of the Church’s Creed, in contrast, goes much farther in its radicalism, inasmuch as it acknowledges being itself as act and says, “Jesus is his work.”

Deadwood Season One: Episodes Three and Four

With these episodes the season definitely seems to be hitting its stride. If there was any question about Swearengen’s character up until this point, by his actions in episodes three and four he establishes himself as one very mean dude. His No. 1 Yes-Man, the hotel manager Farnum (played brilliantly by William Sanderson) is perhaps one of the most pathetically obsequious characters I’ve seen in quite some time. By gambling at cards Wild Bill more frequently escapes the fame that precedes him, and yet still offers to others assistance that can’t be found anywhere else in Deadwood. Montana and Star continue to struggle to make something out of their claim, Garret makes another go at panhandling with dubious assistance provided by Swearengen. Swearengen’s troubles only multiply with the arrival of a higher-end establishment run by newcomer Cy Tolliver. The new girls provide more business for Doc, who of course is still busy with the sick Norwegian girl and Alma Garret, with the usual help of Calamity Jane.

So the plots are definitely thickening, as is the wonderfully stilted dialogue. A momentous dialogue between Mr. and Mrs. Garret is worth playing several times over. Was the dialogue culled from 19th century letters or texts, or is it intended as a pastiche? Incredibly corny, it nevertheless does a great job of drawing the viewer (this viewer, at any rate) into the story.

I can’t really figure out what’s going on in the scenes featuring Calamity Jane. Much of what goes on between her and Charlie and Bill is flying way over my head, not to mention some of the scenes with her and Mrs. Bonner. Is she a lesbian or just a tomboy? Is she in love with Wild Bill, or is it even possible that they have an arrangement of some kind? Or is Wild Bill more of a father figure? The tension, whether it’s sexual or competitive or whatever, is palpable, all the more so for me given my total incomprehension. Very strange.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Introduction to Christianity Part One: God, Chapter Five

“Belief in the Triune God” comes in two parts: “A start at understanding” and “Positive significance”. He begins with a warning: “we cannot overlook the fact that we are now touching a realm in which Christian theology must be more aware of its limits than it has often been in the past; a realm in which any false forthrightness in the attempt to gain too precise a knowledge is bound to end in disastrous foolishness; a realm in which only the humble admission of ignorance can be true knowledge and only wondering attendance before the incomprehensible mystery can be the right profession of faith in God.” (162)

“The point at issue here is whether man in his relations with God is only dealing with the reflections of his own consciousness or whether it is given to him to reach out beyond himself and to encounter God himself.” (164) I think this is another way of stating what Karl Adam has called ‘fictionalism’ – in other words, ‘true’, perhaps, but only as mankind’s self-generated diversion, so that even this theology becomes another layer added on top of philosophy and myth.

“We cannot endure as Christians if we think it permissible to make it easier for ourselves today than it was [for the ancient Church]. Let us anticipate the answer found in those days to the parting between the path of faith and a path bound to lead to the mere appearance of faith: God is as he shows himself; God does not show himself in a way in which he is not.” (165)

In this chapter Ratzinger pursues the development of the doctrine of the trinity, as well as the development of such ‘dead ends’ as Subordiantionism and Monarchinanism. He explains both as seductive simplifications. The ‘way’ to the truth about the trinity “means at bottom renouncing any solution and remaining content with a mystery that cannot be plumbed by man.” (168)

About Monarchinanism in particular Ratzinger adds this: “Even in its early Christian form and then again in it revival by Hegel and Marx, it has a decidedly political tinge; it is ‘political theology’ In the ancient Church it served the attempt to give the imperial monarchy a theological foundation; in Hegel it becomes the apotheosis of the Prussian state, and in Marx a program of action to secure a sound future for humanity. Conversely, it could be shown how in the old Church the victory of belief in the Trinity over Monarchianism signified a victory over the political abuse of theology: the ecclesiastical belief in the Trinity shattered the politically usable molds, destroyed the potentialities of theology as a political myth, and disowned the misuse of the Gospel to justify a political situation.” (171)

Concerning the doctrine of the Trinity as negative theology: “Every one of the main basic concepts in the doctrine of the Trinity was condemned at one time or another; they were all adopted only after the frustration of a condemnation; they are accepted only inasmuch as they are at the same time branded as unusable and admitted simply as poor stammering utterances – and no more.” (172)

Concerning theology and science: “that we put any questions or make any experiments at all is due to the fact that God for his part has agreed to the experiment, has entered into it himself as man. Through the human refraction of this one man we can thus come to know more than the mere man; in him who is both man and God, God has demonstrated his humanity and in the man has let himself be experienced.” (177)

In a second subchapter Ratzinger tries ‘to elucidate the signpost character of these references by means of three theses.”

“Thesis No. 1: The paradox ‘una esentia tres personae’ – one Being in three Persons - is associated with the question of the original meaning of unity and plurality.” (178) I think the main point here is that the Trinity is really a way of showing that ‘God stands above singular and plural. He bursts categories.’ Human concepts of unity, dualism and plurality are insufficient. God is beyond human calculation.

“Thesis No. 2: The paradox ‘una esentia tres personae’ is a function of the concept of person and is to be understood as an intrinsic implication of the concept of person.” Of course the divine person cannot be conceived of in human terms, for “the personality of God infinitely exceeds the human kind of personality.” (180)

“Thesis No. 3: The paradox ‘una esentia tres personae’ is connected with the problem of absolute and relative and emphasizes the absoluteness of the relative, of that which is in relation.” God is relational Being.

Ratzinger makes three other points: First, that dogma is a speech form, and as such one should not take these descriptive words as the reality itself, or even the only possible description, for “that would mean a failure to recognize the negative character of the language of theology, the purely tentative fashion in which it speaks.” (181) Second, putting it as succinctly as possible, not just logos, but dia-logos. Two quotations from St. Augustine are especially instructive: “He is not called Father in reference to himself but only in relation to the Son; seen by himself he is simply God,” and “In God there are no accidents, only substance and relation.” Furthermore, Christianity can be said to have acted as midwife to a revolution in human thought, “the sole dominion of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality.” Third, that rather than being mere speculative theology, the doctrine of the Trinity is strongly connected to scripture and perhaps the best way to understand such passages as John 10:30, ‘I and the Father are one.’ Here Ratzinger makes use of St. Augustine again in his commentary on the Gospel of John. “My teaching is not my own, but his who sent me.” (John 7:16) This paradoxical statement, according to St. Augustine, breaks elementary rules of logic, and the ‘teaching’ becomes clear by confronting what is meant by the ‘me’ and the ‘I’ that lies behind it. This in turn leads to a reflection on the nature of selfhood itself.

As R. puts it: “The most individual element in us – the only thing that belongs to us in the last analysis – our own “I”, is at the same time the least individual element in us - for it is precisely our “I” that we have neither from ourselves nor for ourselves. The “I” is simultaneously what I have completely and what least of all belongs to me.”

Deadwood Season One: ‘Deadwood’ and ‘Deep Water’

There is a lot of rough language in this little frontier town. And a lot of that rough language struck this viewer as pretty anachronistic. Did panhandlers and saloonkeepers and even the whores really say “%@&” or “#@&” or “&%@&#” or “$%@&#!@&er” quite so much? I’m not asking if they said it at all, at least some of those words, but did they use them so much? Actually, did they use “$%@&#!@&er” at all? Maybe they did. I wasn’t alive then, so I can’t say that they didn’t, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t use “$%@&#!@&er” in nearly every other sentence, as they do here. I don’t mean to sound like a prig either; I’ve let loose a “#&%!” here and there. Even a %$#@&! when I really got away from myself. Not that a 19th century card shark or cowboy has to sound like a 21st century blogger, but they shouldn’t sound like 21st century teamsters or scriptwriters either. I just want to establish the fact that I’m not usually put off by a few swear words, and that there is some serious swearing going on in Deadwood. And that it detracted somewhat from whatever verisimilitude had otherwise been established in the story.

Okay, I’m done with all that. Plot wise, the story begins with a horse thief in a jail asking his jailer (Bullock) about the rumour that ‘there ain’t no law in Deadwood’. Bullock ends up hanging the poor guy, hands over his badge, and then with his partner Sol Star moves to Deadwood to start up a hardware store. A Limey named Swearengen (played with frightening conviction by Ian McShane) has already set up a saloon called “The Gem,” and appears to be setting up all sorts of nefarious activity, as evidenced by the way he helps fleece the token ‘Mick’ and beats up the working girls whenever they get a little out of line (by, say, shooting one of their johns). A ‘Doc’ tends to the prostitutes as well as he can, but it’s a big job. Quite a bit of static showed up on my versimilometer here as well, but I’m going to let that go for now. A greenhorn named Garret (accompanied by his Laudanum-addicted wife Alma) is thoroughly cheated as well, and Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and their retinue show up in Deadwood at about the same time. A family of Norwegians is shown on their way back to Minnesota, but later a guy in scruffy-looking top hat shows up reporting that they’ve all been scalped on the trail by Injuns. Bullock and Wild Bill go out in search of survivors, find a young girl, and report back to Deadwood by sunrise. Bullock and Wild Bill mete out a little frontier justice, while Swearengen is shown getting pretty upset about the fact that a young survivor has been found. He goes to check out the girl, and scares the Sam Hill out of Calamity Jane (who has been tending to the girl with Doc). In short, it’s established that Swearengen is a Very Bad Man indeed, but that even the guy you want to like, Bullock, may be pushing his own moral righteousness a little too hard. All in all it’s a good start.

Summer Reading with Korrektiv

The two Jonathans have started up a dialogue with, and around, Kierkegaard’s Stages On Life’s Way, and I’ll be sure to join in whenever I have something to add. Probably even more often than that. If I have any longer comments to make I’ll make an effort to copy them here, including this quotation from B16, found in Salt of the Earth:

(Seewald) Christianity was never so widespread around the world as it is today. But the salvation of the world doesn’t automatically go along with the expansion.

Ratzinger In point of fact, the quantitative expansion of Christianity, which, after all, is measured by the number of professing Christians, doesn’t automatically imply the improvement of the world, because not all who call themselves Christians really are Christians. Christianity works only indirectly, through men, through their freedom, on the shaping of the world. It is not itself already the establishment of a new political and social system, which would banish calamity.

I think this quotation is instructive for a number of reasons. The first is that I think it fits in with Kierkegaard’s conception of one of the chief problems of ‘Christendom’, and the chief task of one who would profess himself a Christian in such a culture. And certainly the idea that “Christianity works only indirectly, through men, through their freedom” is an idea to which Kierkegaard would be sympathetic. Though not, I don’t think, in complete agreement. One of Ratzinger’s chief concerns is, of course, ‘Christianity’ but I think Kierkegaard would substitute the word – the actual person – ‘Christ’ in adapting the above quotation. I’m also reminded of Auden (himself a very careful reader of Kierkegaard) and his comment that nobody but Christ himself and perhaps the saints are really worthy of being called ‘Christians’. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how comfortable Kierkegaard would have been with ‘the salvation of the world’, so concerned was he with the salvation of ‘the individual’. And there, it seems to me, is the rub.

A second reason is that I’ve always harbored the suspicion (which I can’t really support) that Kierkegaard was secretly, perhaps even unbeknownst to himself, working towards the Roman Catholic Church, based mainly on my understanding (admittedly pretty fuzzy) of his attitudes towards state-sponsored Christianity. I also wonder whether his problems vis-à-vis marriage aren’t somehow connected to a call to celibacy, to which of course the Roman Catholic Church has been such a steadfast witness. I think that others have suggested this is at least possible as well. I realize there are good reasons to doubt either of these assertions to be true, but perhaps it’s worth throwing out in just this sort of brainstorming session.

Here’s a question for Kierkegaard scholars: what were Kierkegaard’s reflections (if any) on the doctrine of the Trinity? Or of Christ considered in light of Christological developments by theologians in the ancient church? Did he concern himself with contemporary views of Christological issues? I guess t hat’s several questions.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Introduction to Christianity Part One: God, Chapter Four

The end of the first paragraph of “Faith in God Today” is both a call and a question: “the Christian statement ‘I believe in God’ is always a process of separation, of acceptance, of purification, and of transformation. Only in this way can the Christian confession of faith in the one God be maintained in the passing ages. But in what direction does the process point today?” (151)

From the first part, ‘The Primacy of Logos’: “After two and a half thousand years of philosophical thinking it is no longer possible for us to speak blithely about the subject itself as if so many different people had not tried to do the same thing before us and come to grief. Moreover, when we survey the acres of shattered hypotheses, vainly applied ingenuity, and empty logic that history shows us, we might well lose all heart in the quest for the real, hidden truth that transcends the obvious.” (156)

Ratzinger then proposes that there are two possibilities for an explanation of being. The first is the materialistic solution, in which being-thought is a consequence of material forces and is therefore incapable of comprehending itself. The second is the idealistic solution, in which an idealistic being-thought precedes material forces. Christianity points towards being-though, but not, interestingly enough, in its idealistic form.

In conclusion, “At the beginning of all being [Christian belief] puts not just some kind of consciousness but a creative freedom that creates further freedoms.” (158)

In ‘The Personal God’, Ratzinger endeavors to show that God cannot be mere oneness. “Christian belief in God compels us to go beyond mere monotheism and leads to the belief in the triune God, who must now, in conclusion, be discussed.” (161)

Perhaps this only makes sense after the discussion that has gone before it, but this in itself is an arresting sentence: “Christian belief in God compels us to go beyond mere monotheism …” I understand that we must try to understand God as something more than a kind of deified monism that is the summit of what he has earlier called ‘mathematical’ or ‘philosophical’ thinking. What puzzles me is when he writes that plurality, “which follows by an inner necessity from the Christian option, leads of its own accord to a transcending of the concept of a God who is mere oneness.” (161) How is this not merely a replacement of one brand of grim necessity with another? Note the words compels and necessity above. It seems to me that we have just been led to believe ourselves free of materialistic necessity, only to be handed over to (an admittedly more complex) theological necessity.

Garden State

Natalie Portman and Zach Zach Braff in a coming-of-age story that starts out pretty cynically as a successful young actor returns to New Jersey and confronts oddballs and deadbeats in his hometown. Even the most interesting characters struck me as pastiches of one kind or another. One particularly good scene has Zach making a smart-alecky comment about Natalie’s dead pet, and Natalie calling him out on it. It ends better than it begins, with the guy more or less confronting ‘life’, just saying ‘no’ to lithium, and committing himself to the beautiful young woman.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


An interesting tale of crossed destinies directed by Jacques Demy. Anouk Aimée plays Lola, a Caberet dancer and single mother who still pines for Max, the man who left her with a young son seven years before. Marc Michel plays a Roland, no longer quite so young, who loved her when she was Cécile, and seeing her again finds his love for her rekindled. Alan Scott plays Frankie, a sailor who Lola has taken up with temporarily, if only because he looks a lot like Max. Madame Desnoyers and her daughter (also named Cécile) are befriended both by Roland and Frankie, and the relationship between young Cécile and the sailor is meant to rather obviously replicate the experience of Lola and Max. Dedicated to Max Ophuls, interestingly enough.

The Brothers Quay

A character riding a tricycle captures a winged character by using a mysterious table with what looks to be the drawing of a human torso on its surface. Then wraps it in a big yellow cloth before clipping its wings. A number of mysterious things are kept in the drawer of that table, including what may be a beating heart and a much smaller insect. There is also a strange contraption on the wall, looking a little like a square paperclip jutting out from a labyrinth. There also appear to be a number of structures that loosely resemble fire escapes.

A man with one very rapidly fluttering eye seems to be making music with a giant UPS symbol by rubbing a cyst on his forehead. Out of this cyst grows a single hair. The movement of this hair seems vaguely connected to three other hairs growing out of short metal cylinders. The stagy interiors are very light. Lines are drawn, and then curl up off the page before bouncing up a short flight of stairs. Then they turn into a tiny disc, maybe a sphere. Two other figures are in an even more interior, darkened room. One rubs his forehead or pats his torso with his skeletal little hands; another lies in bed. The strings sound like Bartok; the titles resemble the script devised by J.R.R. Tolkien for ‘Lord of the Rings’.

Another figure waits for the trolley. Or maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he just likes to listen for it. He might even drive it, or maybe that’s another puppet that looks like him. There is an arch, or maybe it’s a cathedral. Music is played on what sounds like a Theremin. Later there is an organ. And strings. There are a series of quotations in four different languages, each in its own separate box. Quotations such as “Beneath vertebrae of metal, so prolonged now – this cold glove over my spine.” The end come with the word “Fin” rushing towards us out of the center of the screen, just like Bunuel.

Monday, August 01, 2005

La Ronde

Directed by Max Ophuls, with Simone Signoret and Simone Simon, among others. Anton Walbrook plays the narrator, who in a direct address to the audience identifies himself as one ‘who knows all that you can’t know’. He leads us to a merry-go-round, or ronde, which works as a kind of focalizing metaphor for the circulating nature of erotic entanglements. After introducing us to the story of a soldier and a prostitute he continues to appear in almost every sketch, occasionally offering pithy commentary or doing something to move the plot along. The film rolls from one love story to another, with little distinction made between young love and adultery, or really even happiness or sadness. There is, in fact, a bittersweet sense to every story, suggesting that in matters of the heart all our choices are follies not to be taken too seriously.

The Practice of Writing

This is another excellent book of literary criticism by David Lodge, with essays on Graham Greene, Vladimir Nabokov, Harold Pinter, and others. His analysis of Pinter’s Last To Go struck me as particularly insightful. There he makes a very good case that in his minimalist dialogues Pinter makes the same sorts of observations made by linguistic theorists, perhaps without even being entirely aware of all the implications of his own dark humor.

In a chapter entitled ‘The Novel As Communication’, David Lodge communicates a kind of felicitatem that comes from being the author of a work under equally perceptive criticism.

“It is fairly easy to demonstrate that the meaning of a text cannot be constrained by reference to a writer’s intentions. Let me give a trivial but I hope interesting example from my own experience. In Small World the middle-aged English academic Philip Swallow has a wife called Hilary and has a passionate affair with a younger woman called Joy, who reminds him of his wife when she was younger and prettier – when he first meets her, Joy is even wearing a dressing gown like one Hilary used to wear. Reviewing the novel in the London Times, A. S. Byatt noted approvingly that this theme of identity and difference was neatly encapsulated in the names of the two women, Hilary being derived from the Latin hilaritas, or joy. Now I can be quite sure I had not intended this pleasing symmetry. I called Philip’s wife Hilary in a previous novel, Changing Places, because it is an androgynous name and at that stage of their marriage she was the dominant partner in the marriage, or, as the saying is, wore the trousers. I called Joy Joy because when Philip falls in love with her he is in pursuit of what he calls “intensity of experience” an essentially Romantic quest with a capital R, and joy is a key word in Romanticism. At the moment of consummation, Philip shouts aloud the word “Joy”, which is both exclamation and apostrophe. I had no conscious awareness of the Latin root of the name Hilary until Antonia Byatt pointed it out to me. Nonetheless the play on words is there in the text, and is appropriate. It seems a good case of what Barthes calls the text working.” (195)